beer and seafood
There's a lager revolution brewing in the Bay Area. More than half
the Japanese lagers sold in the U.S. goes to thirsty consumers in
restaurants--and especially those in San Francisco.
is it just sold to traveling Asian businessmen thirsty for a taste
of home? Not according to the top Japanese seafood restaurateurs in
San Francisco and environs.
Crisp and dry, medium-bodied and with a discernible hops bitterness,
Japanese lagers tend to be middle-of-the road crowd-pleasers. High
enough in alcohol and carbonation to withstand the assaults of pungent
wasabi horseradish, red chili garlic paste, and other traditional
Asian spices, Japanese lagers can pair well with virtually any food.
But in California, where consumption of seafood is almost double that
of other regions in the U.S., the traditional dish is fish. From grilled
ahi tuna, to seared salmon with a spicy red chili sauce, to a salad
of Asian noodles with seafood, scallions and soy sauce, to crunchy
shrimp tempura glazed with a plum dipping sauce, all kinds of seafood
creations are enjoyed with Japanese lagers.
Perhaps it is the contrast between the creamy, delicate texture of
fish and the effusive carbonation common to many Japanese lagers,
or the pleasing match of a crisp tempura crust with a quenchingly
At Fuki-Sushi in Palo Alto, diners can choose from dozens of incarnations
of sushi, sashimi and cooked seafood dishes, at the 18-seat sushi
bar, or in the 170-seat restaurant. For almost 20 years, Fuki-Sushi
has built its business on seafood--with sales of Japanese beers to
match. Appetizers, such as a spicy spider roll, made from deep-fried
soft-shell crab with its spidery legs intact in a golden shell of
crust, to a shrimp ebi-tempura roll, are almost always served with
Kayo Io, co-owner of the restaurant, "Both Americans and Asians
will order beer first, to accompany appetizers, but Americans tend
to stick with beer throughout the meal."
Of the Japanese beers, Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo are the top-selling
brands at Fuki-Sushi. "Japanese drinkers tend to be very brand-loyal,"
says Io. "But Americans are willing to experiment, often ordering
several different brands of beer during a single evening."
Satisfying that same desire for experimentation led the chefs at Fuki-Sushi
to offer vegetarian sushi, seaweed-and-rice rolls filled not with
raw fish, but with cooked vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms, spicy
yams, pickled radishes, and fresh, creamy avocado.
Customer requests for spicier foods led another chef-restaurateur,
Kazuo Shimizu of U-Zen Restaurant, Oakland, CA, to create a spicy
scallop and salmon sashimi salad. The seafood is tossed with wasabi
and Hichimi Japanese red chili spices, then served atop a blend of
organic wild greens and mesclun. "The spicy salad goes really
well with the Asahi Super Dry," says Shimizu, "it is a good
Shimizu serves lots of other spicy sushi specialties, "which
are not even made in Japan, it is an invention for American tastes."
When asked if he thought Americans were ready for the taste of the
fabled black beers of Japan, Shimizu pointed out that Americans are
already requesting dark, roasted flavors--but in their coffee.
"When I came here 10 years ago, the typical cup of American coffee
was very thin and watery and weak," says Shimizu. "Now,
there are dozens of coffee roasters, such as Peet's and Starbucks,
and even United Airlines offers the really dark roasted, strong, black
coffee on their flights. Americans are growing to appreciate the dark
roasted flavors of espresso, so maybe they are ready for the stronger
flavors of black beers."